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Nuanced challenges, disparities face black doctors and other medical professionals of color

Wash U’s Adia Harvey Wingfield is the 2018 recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Public Understanding of Sociology Award.
Sean Garcia

Race, gender, work and inequality form the core of sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield’s research – and her latest study focuses on the intersection of those topics within the medical field.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, in conversation with St. Louis Public Radio contributor John Larson, the Washington University professor of sociology discussed her recent observations of the experiences of black workers in health care.

“When we talk about black professionals, I think there’s a pretty narrow window we have of what that looks like,” Wingfield said. “We might think of a few people who are examples of black doctors or teachers or attorneys or what have you …but we don’t really get a clear look.”

She started working on her forthcoming book “Flatlining: Health Care Work, Race, and Inequality in the New Economy” hoping to help foster “a much more nuanced view.”

Emphasizing that she’s found much variance of experience between different health-care job categories, Wingfield offered a couple examples of specific challenges faced by black women who are physicians.

“Pretty much every black woman doctor that I spoke with talked about being mistaken for the nurse or being called ‘miss’ instead of ‘doctor’ even after introducing themselves as ‘doctor,’” she said.

Wingfield touched on possibilities for progress and change, including the need for organizations to be mindful about their attempts to recruit and retain workers of color.

“I think that the current buzz for a while has been this talk about diversity and equity programs … but I think that research also shows that those programs have not been as successful as we might like them to be,” she said.

She suggested that organizations consider restructuring themselves “to be more attuned to a broad array of workers.”

“I also think that it’s critical for workers to have more support and power and influence than they currently do,” Wingfield added, “and I think one way, if we’re thinking about policymakers and the role they can play in this, is to be a lot more supportive of unions and collective bargaining.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.